When the songwriter Apostolos Kaldaras (Απόστολος Καλδάρας, 1922-1990) was asked many years ago why he was persisting to sing the second voice in his songs he said: “It is by far the more difficult thing in a song. It is like the inside of a honeycomb that is dripping honey…” To his “honeycombs” of popular music (Laika) we will dedicate our next two posts.
One can say that the year of his birth, 1922, curved strongly his way in music, his views and the kind of persons he felt close too. In that year begun to crop up in his birthplace Trikala shacks for the refugees from Asia Minor. “The spectacle of the human suffering was tragic” he wrote later. “Most mothers didn’t allow their children to play with the children of the refugees, because they were dressed poor, barefoot and had on them strong marks of their tragic fate. But I loved them. We used to make balls from rags to play in the sandlots…the refugees didn’t bring only their skills, but their songs too. In a small café, I heard for first time songs from Asia Minor” Later, in his teens it was the rebetika that caught his heart. “In 1936, I saw an ice-cream man resting his foot on the wheel of his cart, having on his knee an instrument unknown to me and to most of the people” It was the bouzouki. At that time he was hearing in the small cafes some of the notable rebets that his imagination “equated them with Gods”.
In parallel to the “initiation” in rebetika music “I attended lessons of Byzantine music by the cantor of our church, I entered into the church choir, but I quitted when I started writing love songs with my guitar…you see, nature won!!” He learned almost by himself to play the guitar in one year and was playing and singing with his classmates serenades to girls of the neighborhood… Later his uncle gave him his own bouzouki.
Mangas came out for a stroll (Μάγκας βγήκε για σεργιάνι-1946)
The beginning of his music career as an adult young man began in the occupation and the Civil War time. He registered to the faculty of agriculture in Thessaloniki, playing in taverns, not necessarily of good reputation. During this time he wrote his first song “Mangas came out for a stroll/to find an opium den” and it turned out that painful events happened to the “cadet” Apostolos around this song as his son Kostas tells:
“The “Mangas came out for a stroll” had great appeal. It was performed 10-15 times every night. One night, while he was on stage, a group of cops of Mouschountis entered into the tavern”. Nikolaos Mouschountis was the powerful and controversial commander of Thessaloniki gendarmerie during and after the Civil War, who loved rebetika music and was the songwriter Vasilis Tsitsanis’ best man.”They cops said: “Sir Kaldaras, tomorrow the Commander want to talk to you!” Apostolos was frightened… “”Apostolakis come inside” he heard the commander’s voice next day and he knew that Mouschountis begins sweetly but then attack harshly.”I want you to do me a favor.”What favor?” asked Kaldaras; “Listen Apostoli, it is a shameful act but due to the sponsorship (with Tsitsanis) I want you to do it for me …” And he gives him a paper, which said that the music is by Tsitsanis and lyrics by Kaldaras. “Do this for me and after I will do anything you want …” He was scared …and signed.”
It was usual in those days that a young composer should grant his rights for a small payment to a senior one in order to open his way. Kaldaras got his rights in later years but the break between these two important songwriters lasted until their death.
The original recording (1947) brought together two of Greek music fathers, Markos Vamvakaris and Vasilis Tsitsanis, with the singer Elpida. This was the first and the only “Hashish Song” by Kaldaras,a genre that had been in its last days.*
Night has fallen without moon (Νύχτωσε χωρίς φεγγάρι – 1947)
In those times of the civil war Kaldaras wrote one of his greatest songs. Kaladaras himself told: “At that time, the Communists were persecuted, executed and displaced on a daily basis. I was in Thessaloniki. It was dusk and I saw on the acropolis of Yedi Koule prison the silhouettes of several prisoners. That was it! That’s how “Nihtose xoris feggari” was written.” Again the authorities had intervened and censored the original lyrics so Kaldaras had to show his compassion towards the prisoner much less politically obvious. He didn’t give away that the lad, the hero, is in prison but it could be a young lad waiting for his love to return. Among the adjustments was a complete change of the last verse: the original lyrics were “Door opens door closes /but the key is double/ what he has done that they throw/the lad into prison” These had been changed to “Door opens, door closes /with a heavy sigh/I wish I could guess/what is eating his heart”
Elias Voliotis: “This brisk, lively zeibekiko is in harmonious contrast with the sad picture of its lyrics, as if is afraid, that it won’t be able to defuse the heavy, bottomless emotion, that it won’t withstand the sorrow (of the speaker). The clear, without much emotion and of amazing skill girlish voice of Stella Haskil (the first performer) seems to tell the story from a distance and makes us share the pain of the prisoner.”
Stella Haskil: (Press cc on YouTbe for English subtitles)
Apostolos and Stelios
In the beginnings of the 1950s Apostolos Kaldaras was already known. He had moved to Athens in 1946, played music, first in places of bad-reputation, but found his way to better places and to record his songs. In 1952 he met Stelios Kazantzidis, to begin a fruitful cooperation that lasted for 20 years in which Kaldaras had been writing for him no less than 40 songs among them are great ones as “Whoever you are”(Όποια και να `σαι-1962) that we had dedicate to it a special post titled “It is the same thing, singing and praying”**
They had met in friend’s apartment; Kaldaras asked him to sing, and as he wrote, he recognized his singing qualities and shortly after that Kazantzidis released his first song, Kaldaras’ “I am going for swimming”(Γιά μπάνιο πάω) which tried to “ride” on the very hot weather that Geece experienced that summer. It was a failure, a fiasco and the record company quickly put Kazantzidis back to its “shelf”. Yannis Papaioannou, the rebetikan who helped Kaladaras first steps in the record companies, helped this time Kazantzidis and the rest is well known… Still, Kazantzidis gave the credit for his career to Kaldaras: “If I haven’t met you Mr. Kaldaras I may never tear away from textiles” he said to him once.
I feel that Kaldaras and Kazantzidis had somewhat “twin souls”. Kazantzidis came from the simple people,had been singing to them all his life, they loved him and Kaldaras felt that well. Both despised social injustice, inequality, hypocrisy and oppression.
Very much the same can be said about Kaldaras and The lyricist Eftichia Papagiannopoulou(Ευτυχία Παπαγιαννοπούλου) who wrote lyrics to many of his songs. Kaldaras adored this simple, modest woman. «Eftichia is the top for me. She managed to understand what songs people loved. She had a boundless talent and she didn’t imitate anyone. I consider myself lucky, that I met this woman, who I loved as my mother. She was my spiritual mother, but also my spiritual mistress. I loved her temperament, spirituality, the way she was talking, the figures of speech she was using, the poetic mood and the humor distinguished her all the years of her life.” We had dedicated a post to her “The Hidden Legacy” ***
Eutichia Papagiannopoulou (right) Stelios and Marinella
“If love is a crime” (Αν είναι η αγάπη έγκλημα – 1970). Kaldaras…Kazantzidis…Eftichia…
ׂׂ(If you don’t see the videos there is translated alternative versions below)
“Let bygones be bygones” -Let’s forget what happened in the past (Ας παν στην ευχή τα παλιά). Kaldaras wrote the lyrics and the music to this famous 1969 song.
Versions with English subtitles
“If love is a crime”-Themis Adamantidis
“Let bygones be bygones”-Giorgos Dalaras
*Stavros Ksarhakos, Eleftheria Arvanitaki and Dimitra Galani brings a graceful modern version of this song (2015) at https://youtu.be/KNPm20MRrn4
Stelios Kazantzidis Version: https://youtu.be/9_0zTpE01s4
Dalaras version: https://youtu.be/JGbJbQ5WLq8
*** Look at: https://greeksongstories.wordpress.com/2011/08/
An important source for this post is the book
Aπόστολος Καλδάρας -Αναφορά στη ζωή και το έργο του μεγάλου δημιουργού
του Νίκου Χατζηνικολάου
Apostolos Kaldaras-Reference to the life and work of the great artist
By Nikos Chatzinikolaou
Many thanks to Anastasia Thanela who read the book mentioned above, and to Katerina Siapanta for fruitful explanations!